Strength Workouts: Do you lift heavy or light?
|August 27, 2013||Posted by The Fit Scoop under News and Research, Workouts|
When you are strength training, do you tend to lift heavy weights for a few reps or do you lift lighter weights for more reps? If you are like most people (and I am one of them!) you are probably doing the standard three sets of 10-15 reps when performing strength exercises. This weight lifting pattern has generally been regarded as the sweet spot where you build both muscular strength and endurance. However, a new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that using heavier weights for fewer reps is more beneficial in improving strength and running economy than lighter weights for more reps. The study was performed in masters runners (runners over the age of 40), but the results are likely applicable to runners of all ages.
The study had marathon runners lift weights twice per week for 6 weeks during the first half of their marathon training buildup. One-third of the participants did three sets of 10 reps of various upper and lower body exercises at 70% of their one-rep max with 2-3 minutes of rest between sets. One-third of the participants did four sets of 3-4 reps at 85-90% of one-rep max with 3-4 minutes of rest between sets. And the last third did no weight training. The researchers found that only the low-rep group experienced significant gains in strength and running economy. They saw a 6.17% increase in running efficiency at marathon pace and a 17% increase in one-rep max. It is important to note that the low-rep runners experienced these gains WITHOUT any gain in muscle mass. The researchers think that the low-rep group trained their muscles to recruit more of their existing muscle fibers which is why they were able to run faster paces at the same effort level and lift heavier weights at the end of the six weeks.
What does this mean for you and me? It means that it might be time to revamp your strength routine to include some heavy lifting, particularly during the initial phase or base period of your training program. It is usually not hard to convince men to lift very heavy, but it can be a struggle to convince women due to the dreaded fear of “bulking up”. This study should appease those fears because the heavy-lifting group of runners were able to run faster and be stronger without putting on any extra muscle or weight. Translation = you won’t bulk up!
Tips for incorporating a heavy-weight/low-rep strength program:
1. The general rule is the heavier the weights, the longer the rest period between sets. You want your muscles to fully recover before you stress them again with the next sets.
2. Heavy means HEAVY. You want to feel pretty maxed out after 3-5 reps. If you feel like you can do more reps, increase the weight on your next sets.
3. Be sure to have a general strength training base before attempting a heavy-weight/low-rep routine. You risk injury if you haven’t first accustomed your tendons and ligaments to strength training through a low-weight/high-rep routine.
4. Allow at least 48 hours between heavy-weight strength workouts. Your muscles need time to rebuild before you stress them again with another strength workout.
In honor of this study, this week’s Strength Workout of the Week will be a heavy-weight/low-rep routine. Be sure to check it out later this week!